CANBERRA – Polling stations opened across Australia on Saturday for voters to decide whether the Conservative government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison will challenge the chance and run for a fourth three-year term.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s center-left Labor party is the front-runner in winning the first election since 2007.
But Morrison challenged opinion polls in 2019, leading his coalition to a narrow victory.
His coalition has the narrowest majority, 76 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives, where parties need a majority to form a government.
Both leaders will campaign in Melbourne on Saturday before the vote in their hometown of Sydney.
The first polling stations will close on the east coast of the country at 18:00 local time (08:00 GMT). The West Coast is two hours behind.
Because of the pandemic, more than 48% of Australia’s 17 million voters voted early or applied by mail, which is likely to slow down the count.
Voting is mandatory for adult citizens, and in the last election 92% of registered voters voted.
Early voting for travel or work began two weeks ago, and the Australian Electoral Commission will continue collecting votes by mail for another two weeks.
The government changed the rules on Friday so people recently infected with COVID-19 could vote over the phone.
Albanese said he thought Morrison called the election last weekend because the Australian prime minister is expected to attend a summit in Tokyo on Tuesday with US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishido and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“If we get an accurate result today, the one who is prime minister will be on a plane to Tokyo on Monday, which is not ideal, I must say, right after the election campaign,” Albanese said.
Analysts said Morrison left the election until the last available date to give himself more time to reduce Labor’s lead in opinion polls.
The job promises more spending on caring for children and the elderly. The coalition promises better economic governance as Australia’s deficit grows due to the pandemic.
Morrison said if re-elected his government would provide lower taxes as well as pressure to lower interest rates and the cost of living.
“It’s a choice of who can better manage our economy and our finances, because a strong economy is what guarantees your future,” Morrison said.
Newspoll, published in an Australian newspaper on Saturday, was closely watched by Labor with 53% of the vote.
The poll surveyed 2,188 voters across Australia from 13 to 19 May and had an error of 2.9%.
In the last election in 2019, the drop in votes between the government and Labor was 51.5% to 48.5% – the exact opposite of the results predicted by five of Australia’s most famous polls, including Newspoll.
In addition to campaigning against Labor, Morrison’s conservative Liberal Party is battling a new challenge from so-called independent candidates with a teal color to the re-election of key government legislators at the party’s strongholds.
Tea-independent sells as a greener hue than the Liberal Party’s traditional blue color, and wants more decisive government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Australia than proposed by the government or Labor.
The government aims to reduce emissions in Australia by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Labor has promised to cut emissions by 43%.
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